The Colorado State men’s basketball team will host Colorado on Saturday in this year’s installment of the hardwood showdown. In advance of the game, Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard spoke with Justin Guerriero, head sports editor of the CU Independent, to preview the matchup.
Colin Barnard: How is CU preparing for the game after being upset at home by CSU last season?
Justin Guerriero: I can tell you firsthand that the Rams’ win in Boulder last year plus that dominating second half by CSU had Colorado absolutely seething. Head coach Tad Boyle referred to it as the worst loss under his belt. Sitting in the press area at the Coors Events Center not too far from the Colorado bench, once time started dwindling in the second half I felt like I was at a 19th century wharf. The Buffs were swearing like absolute sailors as they realized they were going to lose to their most hated rivals.
Fast forward to now, and I think the burn of that loss has healed. Much of the frustration came due to the Buffs, who at the time were starting four seniors, losing in such an embarrassing fashion. I think that loss was an early indication that the 2016-17 Buffaloes would under perform. I expect a fully focused Buffaloes squad to take the court in Fort Collins on Saturday. I don’t think last year’s loss to CSU will carry over to the game this weekend.
CB: Who is CU’s biggest threat on both ends of the court?
JG: I think as of right now that honor should go to freshman guard McKinley Wright IV, who has been a major boost to the Buffaloes’ young, guard-heavy team. Wright IV leads the team with 25 assists and is astonishingly unselfish with the ball, especially for a freshman. On that same note, his basketball IQ and ability to play well with the men around him has looked sharp. Wright IV averages 15.7 points per game and was recently named the Paradise Jam Tournament MVP.
The Buffs competed against Quinnipiac, Drake and Mercer, winning all three contests. Wright IV scored 21 points in the first two games and nailed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Quinnipiac that handed CU the win. Expect a lot of him on Saturday.
CB: Prentiss Nixon, Che Bob and J.D. Paige have all demonstrated the ability to lead CSU’s offense. How do you expect CU to defend a diverse offense?
JG: Boyle’s style of basketball stresses tight and unrepentant defense. He constantly barked at his seniors last season for being lazy on defense. The Rams have four guys averaging more than 10 points per game on the year and that certainly is an advantage. Frankly, expect them to produce. The Buffaloes have been winning games this year by less than comfortable margins. We shall see if Colorado is capable of consistently shutting down balanced teams such as the Rams, but overall, the team has gotten quality minutes from the bench thus far, which has been a regular spark to the offense.
On the year, Colorado has held opponents to a .399 make rate from the floor and one thing I’ve noticed is that the team has been able to force teams into taking hurried or non ideal shots. The Buffaloes can play defense, but I think that a more high-powered offense has given them a bigger edge this year.
CB: The Buffs are off to a hot start this year. Undefeated through six games, how successful do you think they can be?
JG: Yeah seriously, they’ve already won more games than the football team! At the end of last season, a synopsis of the Buffs was that they underperformed, especially after having four senior starters plus a fourth-year junior in George King (who the Rams will certainly need to keep an eye on come Saturday.)
Heading into this year, the Buffs lost two bench players in Bryce peters and Thomas Akyazili, both of whom transferred rather abruptly. Losing 6-foot-8 freshman guard Evan Battey, whom the NCAA ruled to be academically ineligible for this season, was another blow to Boyle’s team. But so far, the team has looked solid. I think they have a chip on their shoulder and guys are stepping up big time.
Colorado has been bolstered by the play of junior guard Namon Wright, who after transferring from Missouri last season and redshirting, is averaging 12.7 points per game in a starting role this year. Lucas Siewert, a sophomore forward from Santa Catarina, Brazil, epitomizes what I said above about giving quality minutes from the bench. He has seen his minutes increase and in return, has been a valuable rebounder and multi-dimensional threat from the floor for CU.
I think Colorado can go far this year. King has been a good leader and Wright IV is playing lights out. What I’m getting at is that I see a more relaxed squad this season. These guys I think will exceed expectations. Once conference play begins though, that’s where the real tests will come.
CB: What is your prediction?
JG: I think the Buffaloes will win this game, albeit in enemy territory against a solid Rams’ offense. I predict a double-double from King and another good game from Wright IV. A key though will be rebounding, which the Buffs struggle with. As of right now, King leads the team with 8.8 rebounds per game. Colorado will need to alleviate the rebounding pressure that is on King’s shoulders and start doing a better collective job. This game could absolutely turn out to be a close one, but I’m taking the Buffs, 84-71.
Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.